Tuesday, 5 January 2016

St Andrew, Sutton-in-the-Isle

Sutton-in-the Isle stands at the very south-west corner of the Isle of Ely.  I've posted before about one part of the village - the outlying hamlet of Sutton Gault and its remarkable atmosphere. The parish church, dedicated to St Andrew, stands on possibly the highest point in the village towards the eastern end of the High St.  It is a conspicuous element in the landscape, not only for the size of the tower, which can be seen for miles across the fens, but its design: the two top storeys are octagonal, one inside another like a telescope.  Quite a rare thing too, though there are four others in the county (two at the cathedral in Ely), and two surviving in Norfolk.  I can't think of any in Suffolk, though there, as in Norfolk there are a number of octagonal top storeys that sit on earlier circular towers. There is only one here in Lincolnshire, at Boston.  I suspect they were more common than they are now.
The design here at Sutton looks like a mimetic representation of the central octagon of the cathedral six miles to the east.  Pevsner makes this connection in the Buildings of England volume on Cambridgeshire.  However the design, to my eyes, looks a bit odd; it's a tricky thing, visually, the transition between the square and the octagon and the designer at Sutton didn't quite pull it off.  Larger corner pinnacles may have helped. That it was thought appropriate to top the tower with a model of the octagon makes sense as the bishops of Ely, who had temporal, as well as spiritual power in the Isle, had a manor house here in the parish at Burystead on the lane between the village and Sutton Gault  As Pevsner explains, the body of the church (nave and chancel) was built by two bishops of Ely: Bishop Barnett (1366 -73) and Bishop Arundel (1374 - 88).  And they spent a lot of money on this church.  The South aisle in particular is very stylish with a vaulted, two storied porch and polygonal buttresses dividing the bays and lots of ashlar masonry - the rest of the church is built of rubble, and the texture is very appealing.  In contrast the north aisle is quite plain; no ashlar and no porch.  The style is very latest Decorated Gothic, and as in the choir in Wells cathedral (apparently the work of William Joy) which I have blogged about before, the tracery in the chancel windows is just beginning to crystallize into Perpendicular.  The tower which has an ashlar base, is completely Perp, and therefore later than the work of the two bishops.  Looking at it again as I upload these photographs I'm wondering if the change from ashlar to rubble marks a change in the mason, or a hiatus in construction.  Perhaps the top section of the tower was completed much later.

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